After 20 months of mobilising, agitating and negotiating to green Facebook, the Internet giant has announced its goal to run on clean, renewable energy. Facebook's message to energy producers is clear: invest now in renewable energy, and move away from coal power. From now onwards, Facebook has a siting policy that states a preference for access to clean, renewable energy supply for its future data centres – the places where its computers live. And while for now coal power is still a feature of Facebook, as they say in the IT sector -- it's been deprecated.
It's a great announcement, and one that other technology companies should take their cues from. As our recent "Guide to Greener Electronics 2011" attests, the world's biggest technology companies have a long way to go before any of them can be called "green". As consumers you can be heard by the power of your dollar: shop according to the guide, encourage others to do likewise and provide customer feedback to the companies pointing out our guide.
For technology companies, here are a few suggestions for "new years resolutions" to 'green-up' their operation:
It is a cruel reality that the hi-tech electronics and gadgets of the developed world are shipped to China, India and Africa for their final rest. Thousands of tons of discarded electronics are exported to China every year, where they are "recycled" in makeshift scrap yards by low-paid workers and their children.
Unfortunately, workers are constantly exposed to the hazardous chemicals and metals contained in the electronics, because they break down everything by hand in appalling conditions. As a result, the electronics may be "recycled" but they are also releasing a toxic slew of metals and chemicals into workers, children and the environment at large.
Action: Take back! People should not bear the cost of recycling old electrical goods. Manufacturers should take full lifecycle responsibility for their products and, once they reach the end of their useful life, take their goods back for re-use, safe recycling or disposal.
Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. A mobile phone, for example, contains 500 to 1,000 components. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used.
These dangerous substances cause serious pollution and put workers at risk when the products are manufactured or thrown out. Of particular concern is the exposure of children and pregnant women to lead and mercury. These metals are highly toxic and can harm children and developing fetuses even at low levels of exposure.
Action: Clean up! Electronics manufacturers must stop using hazardous materials. In many cases, safer alternatives currently exist.
Energy efficiency means getting the same amount of work (light, heat, motion, etc.) done with less energy. It covers efficient energy-saving lights, improved industrial practices, better building insulation and a host of other technologies. Since saving energy and saving money often amount to the same thing, energy efficiency is highly profitable.
Simple actions can help you improve the efficiency of offices or factories, such as putting additional insulation on the roof, using super-insulating glazing or buying a high-efficiency equipment. All of these examples saves both money and energy. But the biggest savings will not be found in such incremental steps. The real gains come from rethinking the whole concept, e.g. "the whole factory", "the whole car" or even "the whole transport system". This can, surprisingly often, cut back energy needs by 4 to 10 times of current levels.
Action: Get energy efficient! Consumers have the right to expect that the products they buy meet certain minimum energy efficiency standards. Likewise technology companies must better manage energy use throughout their entire supply chain.
The energy used to power data centres, such as those which run the websites and online services of Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and other major IT companies is enormous, totalling more than 2 percent of US electricity demand, and is projected to grow 12 percent or more each year.
Videos, pictures and other data are stored in this high tech "cloud" to deliver data to homes and offices in real time. If the cloud was a country, it would be the 5th largest in terms of electricity use, worldwide. This cloud is often powered from locations that are heavily dependent on electricity from a variety of sources, including coal, which is the dirtiest source of energy and largest single source of global warming pollution in the world.
Action: Unfriend Coal! If all the Internet giants would unfriend coal, it would send a message to utilities and investors that couldn't be ignored. Energy efficiency is important, but for an energy revolution to save the planet we also need to upgrade to green energy.
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